When the Giants match up with the undefeated Panthers, Sunday, the main focus will be on the battle of strengths – Big Blue’s offense against Carolina’s defense.
Whichever unit wins that encounter will go a long way into determining the outcome. As great as Carolina quarterback Cam Newton is – and he’s a legit MVP candidate – the Panthers (13-0) will have a difficult time beating the Giants (6-7) if the defense doesn’t come to play.
The pressure therein lies with a Giants’ offense that’s been one-dimensional this season. They’ve failed to run the ball consistently this season, and have been so bad that last week’s run of the mill rushing totals were considered a boon for the offense. Rashad Jennings led the team with 81 yards on 22 carries, which were more yards than his previous three games combined.
That’s how bad the Giants’ rushing attack has been all season. That must change if Big Blue has the slightest chance of knocking off the league’s best team.
“They do a good job against the run,” quarterback Eli Manning said. “They get teams in third and long, and then make you have to throw more than you want. That’s how they get a big lead on teams, because the second half [you become] pass happy and that’s when they get a lot of turnovers on defense.”
Carolina is stout across the board defensively. They’ve registered 40 sacks so far, third-highest in the league. They lead the NFL with 21 interceptions, are tops in takeaways (33), first in turnover differential (plus-18), tied for fourth in points allowed per game (18.7), third in yards allowed per game (307.8), fifth in passing yards allowed (223.2), and second in yards per play allowed (4.7). But their calling card on defense is stifling the rushing attack. That’s the backbone of the defense, spearheaded by middle linebacker Luke Kuechly. When the Pro Bowler and his sidekicks disallow any rushing yards, it allows the front line to get after the quarterback, and the opportunistic secondary to pad their interception totals.
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The Panthers are yielding just 84.6 yards per game on the ground, good for second best. That wall of run defense must be chipped at if the Giants are to have a chance.
Wideout Rueben Randle noted that the passing game is that much more lethal if they gain some balance via the running game. The offense, outside the talents of Manning and wideout Odell Beckham Jr., has been uneven at best. Randle acknowledged his struggles this season, but reasoned when Jennings is running the way he did in Miami, it keeps the defense off balanced and guessing.
“I think we move pretty well offensively once we do that,” Randle said. “We can go down the field at will when we get everyone involved and get them [running backs] going. Everyone starts to get in a groove [because] the defense doesn’t know who’s getting the ball next. When that happens, everyone is getting confident within the offense and just going out there and putting points on the board.”
Points on the board may be difficult to come by for the Giants, as the Panthers boast talent at all levels of the defense – from linemen Kawann Short and Star Lotulelei, to linebackers Kuechly and Thomas Davis, to cornerback Josh Norman, and safety Kurt Coleman in the secondary.
But if Big Blue is to make Carolina’s defense really work and stay off-kilter, New York will need to gain some semblance of balance of their own on the offensive side of the ball.
Big Blue notes:
- To help bolster their run defense, the Giants brought back an old friend, defensive tackle Barry Cofield, who played for the team from 2006-10 and was a member of the Super Bowl XLII championship team. He adds depth at defensive tackle, where the Giants have lost Johnathan Hankins (season-ending torn pectoral last month) and, on Monday, Markus Kuhn with a knee injury.
- Safety Brandon Meriweather was released to make room for Cofield.
- Defensive end Owa Odighizuwa will practice today. The rookie from USC, who was on short-term injured reserve, will be eligible to be added to the 53-man roster on Dec. 31.
- The Panthers have stars and stats all along their defense. Short has a team-leading nine sacks. Kuechly and Davis each have more than 100 tackles. Norman is arguably the best cornerback in the league this season – and he’s more than willing to tell you all about it. And Coleman has an interception in each of the last five games, and seven for the season.